Category Archives: travel

Essaouira, Morocco

 

The Great Moroccan Adventure, Marrakech

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit Morocco. This fall I crashed my friends’ visit and succeeded.  Jocelyn and Dan were kind enough to let me join them and brave enough to let me make the plans.

Boy, was it a worthwhile journey. Jocelyn, Dan and I had never travelled together before Morocco and that of itself can be an adventure. They were wrapping up a 9-month-long around-the-world trip (well documented by them at www.revealingworld.com and www.breakfree.me) so I wasn’t worried that we’d be working from drastically different budgets but I was a bit concerned that they and I are interested in drastically different things.  I am notorious as a city girl and avid museum-goer.  My friends climbed Mt Kinabalu in Borneo and Wayana Picchu in Peru.  As with so many other things, my worries were for naught.  We had a great time.  Dan bravely drove us to the places I had selected; they both graciously complemented my planning.

The more I read about Morocco the more places therein I wanted to visit.  As that is impossible in the week we had available we settled on a 3 town loop of central Morocco, based out of Marrakech.

Marrakech is fascinating.  I wasn’t sure what to expect–my Moroccan experience totals a day trip to the Mediterranean cities of Tetouan and Tanger and the Morocco pavillion in Walt Disney World’s Epcot.  Perhaps my lack of expectation is why I was so impressed.  Somehow Marrakech looked exactly the way I expected North Africa to look at the same time as I acknowledged I had no idea what to expect.  I did assume we’d get lost, the medina is notoriously maze-like; that expectation was not fulfilled.  People are nice, people are everywhere, people are always doing something worth watching.  Window shopping in the souks never got dull.  I found myself thinking in superlatives–spectacular, amazing, wonderful.

Marrakech is intimidating.  Performers and vendors in and around the famous Djemma el Fna are pushy.  They get right up in your face.  They may reach out and touch you to get your attention.  Most accept a rejection with a smile.  But that rejection needs to be firm.  People may follow you trying to get you to visit a shop or guide you to the sights.  Tips are requested and often rejected as not enough.  I understand the need–these people make their living off tips and sales from visitors and if they don’t push I might stop at the next shop instead.  Develop a thick skin and a firm but pleasant response.  When the shopkeeper old enough to be my father asked Dan how many camels Jocelyn and I were worth I could have gotten upset but I chose to laugh and tell them we are priceless. It helps that the shopkeeper was clearly joking but, regardless, getting upset only ruins my day; now I have another story to tell and I can tell it with a laugh and a smile on my face rather than grumbling about “that sexist old man”.

Marrakech is beautiful.  The roses were blooming, the walls are red faded to a warm pink, the sky was blue, and the artwork stunning.  The city is surrounded by orchards, there are olive groves in the city and parks abound.  We visited a couple of attractions and a tannery, which does actually smell as bad as it is reputed to smell.  The Saadian Tombs were a peaceful retreat from the bustle of the city as well as a beautiful example of Moroccan craft.  The Bahia Palace was stunning in the variety of the decorative work on display.  The Musee de Marrakech displays a lantern that is truly impressive in scope, but the best thing, my favorite thing to do, was simply walking around the medina.

Three days in Marrakech was a good length of time–enough to see a few sights and soak up the atmosphere without feeling rushed.  The hardest thing was to decide where to go from Marrakech.  So many interesting things are an easy day from the city that it was difficult for me to make a choice.  A saffron farm?  Waterfalls?  Hiking?  The deciding factor for us was the knowledge that goats climb trees in argan groves.  For my friends and I, this is a must-see.  The argan groves are in the Souss region, primarily, and that means travelling west and south from Marrakech.  We rented a car and headed west out of Marrakech for the Atlantic coast.  Next stop, Essouira.

Marrakech, Morocco

The best advice I can give you

Go with the flow.  Roll with the punches.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  I’m out of cliches but that sentiment is the most important thing you can learn about travelling.

The back and forth over getting my China visa could have made me crazy–and not having my passport did make me a little nervous–but the waiting didn’t because I know how to not let small setbacks bother me.  There’s always somewhere else I could visit, a country who doesn’t require a visa and would be more than happy to take my money in exchange for food and hotel stays.  That knowledge makes all the difference.

Remember, when it gets hard–subway workers are on strike and you can’t get across town, the only museum you wanted to visit is closed for renovations, the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower is out of order, St Mark’s Square is under water–there’s always something else to see and do.  Even in the smallest towns there will be something else to do and if that something else is something you don’t like or can’t do, simply embrace the moment as an adventure that will become a great story to tell your friends and family about your trip.  Any adventure that doesn’t end in a hospital visit or a stay in a foreign prison is a good adventure.  Even a night stuck in a train station because you couldn’t find a hotel room can be a great story to tell your friends when you get home.  In fact, it’ll probably be the story you tell most often.

So much of the world never has the opportunity to go more than a few miles from the place where they were born.  The chance to travel is an amazing thing.  If you didn’t want to experience new and different things you would never have left home.  Sometimes travel is stressful and it’s important to acknowledge that but if you don’t let things go you will ruin your trip.  Only you can do that because only you have control over your attitude.  Presumably you are travelling to learn new things and see stuff you can’t see at home.  Don’t let frustration or disappointment cloud your vision.

I can confidently say I have never been on a bad trip.  I have never had a bad experience.  I did get stuck in Paris during a Metro strike–fortunately it was a brief strike–but I got to walk through neighborhoods I would not have seen otherwise.  I have also been sick in Istanbul.  That time, I did miss a day of sightseeing, but I still had a wonderful time on my other two days in town and that missed day is just incentive to go back.

Certainly, when things go screwy, take some time to be frustrated, vent your frustration to your companion, be angry for a little while.  And then…let it go.  Let it go and start thinking about plan B.  Who knows, plan B may end up being the best part of your trip.